FORT COLLINS - Colorado State desperately needed to get the bad taste of a three-game losing streak out of their mouths. The Rams did just that, knocking off UNLV in their Mountain West opener by a final score of 91-77.
CSU (9-5, 1-0) had to work uphill at the outset. Jalen Poyser showed why he's the leading scorer for the Rebels, putting up the first six points for UNLV. CSU faced an early five-point deficit at the first media timeout.
But CSU would go on a 7-0 run sparked by the play of Che Bob. The 6-6 forward flashed his enormous potential with a corner 3-pointer on one end and a block on the other. Along with four points by Braden Koelliker and a pair of makes from beyond the arc by J.D. Paige, the Rams led 20-19.
UNLV stayed hot from the field, however, and particularly from 3-point range. The Rebels made six of their first nine shots from deep to give them a 35-28 lead with 7:24 remaining in the half.
Larry Eustachy's crew finally got back to their defensive ways as halftime approached. CSU went on a 10-0 run in the final 2:17, in major part thanks to the Rebels missing their last five shots. UNLV failed to score in the last 3:06, which included three turnovers.
Emmanuel Omogbo started to change the momentum with a 3-pointer. Then Devocio Butler took the ball away from UNLV and slammed it home on a fastbreak. CSU regained the lead at 46-43 after an Omogbo steal led to a three by Bob.
"We felt like we were a little sluggish," Omogbo said, referring to much of the first half. "We kept going back and forth with them. They were making contested shots. After we made that run and went up three at halftime, we talked about it in the locker room, saying they're not going to keep hitting shots like this. And that's exactly what happened. They didn't hit crazy shots in the second half, so we were able to blow the lead up."
Both teams shot 47 percent from the field in the first half. CSU had a 22-16 rebounding advantage, as well as a 12-4 edge in second chance points. The Rams got 25 of their 46 first half points either in the paint or at the free throw line.
CSU's offense kept things rolling coming out of the locker room. Gian Clavell caught fire from the field, hitting 3-pointers on three consecutive offensive possessions. The senior's run of his own guided the Rams to a 14-3 run to open the second half.
"I just play within the game," Clavell said regarding his improved, efficient play. "I wasn't trying to force anything. I wasn't trying to do this, do that. Just try to play within the game. Let the game come to you. That's what I did today. In the last games, I wasn't doing that. And it cost us."
From there, the green and gold would cruise. An Anthony Bonner old-fashioned three-point play meant that the Rams got everyone on the score sheet about midway through the second half.
It may be just game one of conference play, but it was a game that the Rams needed to have.
"I mean, we lost three straight," said Omogbo. "Our backs were against the wall. We had to come in and get a win. This was a must-win game."
QUOTE OF THE GAME
"We just got back to having fun. We haven't had that the last three games and today we were out there just having fun like we were all season. Everybody's happy in the locker room and we got the win." - Omogbo
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Omogbo - He had yet another double-double, totaling 15 points and 13 rebounds. Omogbo also blocked a shot several rows deep behind the UNLV bench in the second half.
Clavell - The guard from Puerto Rico finished with 21 points on 7-of-15 shooting, while also grabbing 11 rebounds. He looked the most confident than in any previous game this season.
BY THE NUMBERS
40 - Points in the paint for the Rams, compared to just 20 for the Rebels
30 - The field goal percentage for UNLV in the second half, a far cry from their hot shooting in the first
6 - Consecutive losses in Moby Arena for UNLV
CSU heads to Idaho for a New Year's Eve matchup with Boise State. Tipoff is set for 4 p.m.